Technology Explained

Safety First – Choose The Right Filament For Your 3D Printer

Matthew Hughes 19-12-2013

The massive amounts of applications for 3D printing What Is 3D Printing And How Exactly Does It Work? Imagine if you could print out three-dimensional objects straight from a printer in your home. When I was a kid in primary school, I thought it would be awesome if I could print pizzas out... Read More is mind-boggling. These devices have revolutionized how we design and manufacture everything from replica body parts to firearms, robotics to food. And, you – yes you – can be part of this second industrial revolution.


We’ve covered 4 affordable sub-$100 3D printers 4 Affordable 3D Printers You Can Buy For Your Home Read More on the market right now, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Did you also know there are a variety of printing materials you can use with these printers, with varying levels of biocompatibility?

But what is biocompatibility? Simply put, biocompatibility is how something works with the human body without any adverse effects. When we talk about biocompatibility within the context of 3D printing The 3D Printing Revolution Leaps Ever Closer to Consumer Level 3D printers have been a reality for some time now, but if we're honest the majority of them are - let's say - for hobbyists. Although it's very impressive and meta to say that one... Read More , we’re really looking at two things. Firstly, is the filament porous? If so, it can harbor bacteria (and water), which is bad. Secondly, does it leak chemicals? If so, this is obviously not biocompatible.

Some materials are more biocompatible than others, and there are other considerations to make, including whether a material is shatter-proof. If you plan to eat off your 3D printed creation, or if you’re mocking up a toy for a younger relative, you’ll want to read this article.


PLA stands for Polylactic acid, and is a filament often used in 3D printing. It comes in two flavors of rigidity, with one being significantly more shatterproof and flexible than the other.



The production of PLA is fascinating, as quite frequently it is produced from a corn by-product rather than through the processing of oil. It is often used in medical applications, including sutures and prostheses because of its excellent biocompatibility and its lack of adverse interaction with the human body. As a result, if you’re planning to make yourself some cutlery or some toys, PLA is an excellent choice.

Nylon 618 and 645

Did you know that Nylon is a portmanteau of New York and London? It’s true. It’s also true that Nylon has been around the block a few times, and since its invention in the thirties has found a multitude of use both in the consumer sphere and in military applications.


Nylon really is a wonder material. It’s long been famed for its biocompatibility, especially in the medical sphere. Most cartilage replacements are made with this stuff, and a fair number of prosthetics too. Whilst Nylon filament isn’t quite as easy to find as PLA, it is completely safe for human usage. Body hackers rejoice!



Wood filament isn’t as common as ABS or PLA is. It consists of a resin that is part wood pulp and part PLA as a binding agent.


As previously mentioned, PLA is biocompatibible. Wood also is biocompatible, however, it is a porous material, and this can soak up more water and bacteria than Billy Mays in a Zorbeez informercial. As a result, I would recommend that you exercise a huge amount of caution (if not restraint) when using it as a material for making cutlery or children’s toys.

Dishonorable mentions

Two other popular filaments in use today are ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) and PC (Polycarbonate). Whilst these both have great use cases, with both being reasonable rigid and easily accessible, neither are biocompatible.



Whilst it’s possible to get food standard polycarbonate, if you’re 3D printing with it, it’s likely that you’re instead using the industrial grade stuff. This can be quite nasty, and has been known to release Bisphenol A in room temperature, which has been shown to have adverse effects on mice according to a 2003 study.


Choosing the right filament when 3D printing is essential. As always, safety is paramount and some filaments are safer than others. Did I miss any? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo Credit: Oranse


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  1. TimPostma
    July 10, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    i believe that poly carbonate is a better option of filament& the reason is polycarbonate has a lower emissions than PLA in accordance to Clean strands LLC& they got a Lab to test it,
    under condition of never any usage of any kind of food, or drinks nor use with toddlers, etc
    & even then their is FDA approved ABS filaments,which meets the legal requirements for food and drink contact

  2. Bradon
    December 20, 2013 at 11:24 am

    Bookmarked. Excellent article, thanks a ton for this.
    Also, you have a typo, "We’ve covered 4 affordable sub-$100 3D printers" got me dope excited about a printer that costs less than a C-note. But oh well :D

    • Matthew H
      December 20, 2013 at 12:12 pm

      Thanks for the kind words man. Perhaps that was a typo, or perhaps I was just being optimistic for the year ahead?

      Nah, it was a typo. I'll get it fixed. Cheers man!

    • Fik of Borg
      December 22, 2013 at 12:46 am

      The "$100 3D printers” got me too. I jumped in the proverbial "SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY" attitude...